Several hundred people have damaged their lungs by vaping, and around 20 have died in the United States recently, including two in Oregon.

The trend is troubling. And given the popularity of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, government health officials had an obligation to issue warnings and even, as many have, to urge people to stop vaping altogether until more evidence is available about which products pose the greater risk.

But Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s decision last week to ban for six months the sale of flavored vaping products in Oregon, despite the absence of definitive proof that those products are hurting people, is excessive.

Elected officials should not ban the sale of legal products when the link between those products and illness is less than conclusive. There’s evidence, although again it’s not absolute, that the biggest danger might lie with black-market products rather than the legal ones affected by Oregon’s temporary ban.

The analogy is not perfect, to be sure, but food recalls, most of which are initiated voluntarily by a manufacturer rather than imposed by the government, are limited to a well-documented, lab test-confirmed risk, usually contamination of a specific list of items.

In any case, it’s not as if Oregon’s temporary ban is the only way to significantly reduce the number of people who use flavored vaping products.

It’s beyond question that the vast majority of people who vape are aware of the situation, and of the potential risk. Some retailers acted quickly to pull products until they could confirm whether they contained an additive that has been linked to the illnesses. And it’s reasonable to believe that when the governor says “Until we know more about what is causing this illness, please, do not vape,” she will have an influence.

California officials issued a similar statement urging residents to avoid vaping.

But unlike Brown, California Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t temporarily ban any products. Newsom instead directed health officials to start a public awareness campaign to emphasize the potential health risks of vaping.

As is typically the case when the government seeks to deprive citizens of a product based on its potential hazards, Brown’s ban on flavored vaping items likely will have negative effects that partially offset its intended benefits.

Because vaping is an alternative to smoking, it’s likely that some vapers, denied access to the product, will revert to smoking tobacco. And there’s nothing uncertain about the health risks associated with that.

Brown’s decision to temporarily ban products that might not prove to be implicated in the recent spate of illnesses isn’t the only problematic part of her executive order, though. The document shows that Brown’s motivation isn’t limited to the recent illnesses.

The order also cites surveys showing that more teens are using flavored nicotine vaping products, which can’t be legally sold to anyone younger than 21 in Oregon. Brown’s order blames this trend on advertisements for the flavored products.

It’s perfectly reasonable for the governor to worry about minors using products which are supposed to be available only to adults. But that problem, it hardly needs to be said, is not limited to flavored vaping products. Teenagers smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol as well. Gov. Brown has not taken any action to temporarily ban either of those products. Nor did she ban all vaping liquids; only the flavored ones.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald

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